Thursday, June 17
What is an NCR land?
Therefore it is important for all of us to know what constitutes NCR land and what our rights are.
The Iban customs and traditions (adat) have been created or prescribed for the pursuance of societal survival and continuity.
“Custom” is defined as tradition, observance, convention, manner, etiquette, ritual, habit, practice, rite, ceremony, wont and rule. “Tradition” refers to custom, institution, convention, ritual, way of life and habit. Tradition includes oral tradition which encompasses the full range of meaning by which Ibans construct social memory, which includes Iban narratives, myths, legends, verbal songs, magic, rituals, ritual speeches, poetry, epic, laws, dances, traditional music, genealogies, stories of old, sacred places, poems of lamentations, boundary marking and augury. It concerns the way Ibans collectively remember their past and make it relevant to the present.
ADAT is, therefore a way of life, basic values, culture, accepted code of conduct, manners and conventions. These broad definitions include aspects of law, moral, religion, custom, habit, etiquette, agriculture and fashion that must be adhered to in order that the Iban could live harmoniously and obtain the favour of the gods.
In Sarawak, only some of the customs and traditions of the Ibans have been codified in the ADAT IBAN 1993. As such, the ADAT IBAN 1993 is not exhaustive of the Iban Adat. The legislative definition of ‘native customary law’ treats customs, traditions and adat as synonymous.
Traditionally, the Ibans of Sarawak were swidden cultivators whose economy, based on hill rice, depended upon the availability of large tracts of primary forest for maximum padi harvest, forest produce and game. The critical basic prerequisite for Iban society is to have sufficient land and virgin forests available. This is to ensure ample food supply, forest produce such as paku (ferns) and umbut (shoots), fish from streams or rivers, games (jelu), materials for constructing and maintaining the longhouse and resources for domestic use.
In the past, when pioneering families of Ibans opened a virgin forest in an area for farming, they would perform an important ritual known as ‘panggul menua’. It was only after the ceremony was performed that the first cutting of virgin forest for farming can commence. From then onward, the individual families can establish individual rights to the cleared area including forest adjacent to or around the cleared area as their ‘pulau’ area or ‘pala umai’ or ‘pala temuda’ or ‘pala kebun’.
‘Pemakai menua’ encompasses an area of land or territory held by a distinct longhouse or village community and includes farms, gardens, fruit groves, cemetery, rivers and virgin forest within a defined boundary (antara or garis menua). ‘Pemakai menua’ also includes ‘jeramie’, ‘temuda’ (cultivated land that has been left to fallow), ‘tembawai’ (old longhouse sites), and ‘pulai, pala, kebun, pala umai, and payong temuda’ (virgin forests that have been left uncultivated to provide the community with forest resources for domestic use such as timbers for building and maintaining the longhouse or for coffins for the dead).
Where several pioneering villages or longhouses occupied an area of land, boundaries (antara or garis menua or benoa) were agreed and drawn between the villages or longhouses. These boundaries followed streams, watersheds, ridges, hills, mountains and other permanent landmarks.
Only members of a village or longhouse can farm or use the land and collect forest produce or hunt and fish within the ‘antara/garis menua’ of the village or longhouse.
Traditionally, disputes between the longhouse of village communities over their land boundaries (antara or garis menua) are referred to and resolved by the Village Chiefs or elders. After the establishment of the Native Courts, such disputes are now referred to and resolved in the Native Courts such as in the case of TR Gawan v Penghulu Manggoi Supreme Court, Kuching Civil Appeal No. A/18/54 and Galau anak Kumbong & 3 Ors v Penghulu Imang & 30 Ors in Native Court of Appeal Sibu No.3/66.
The Brooke Administration in Sarawak also encouraged, recognised and accepted the ‘adat’ of the natives (including the Ibans) of having ‘antara/garis menua’ between the longhouses or villages. This can be seen in the Secretariat Circular No. 12 of 1939 issued in 1939. This ‘adat’ of having ‘antara/garis menua’ is till being practised, accepted and observed by the natives (including the Ibans all over Sarawak) until today.
In the Baram District which includes the Sungai or Batang Bakong where the Plaintiffs and their ancestors are from, the official records of the ‘antara or garis menua or benoa’ of the natives and Iban longhouses there are complied in the Register of Land Boundary kept at the District Office, Marudi, Baram. A copy of the same Register of Land Boundary is kept in the Sarawak Museum and in the office of the Majlis Adat Istiadat. I have personally made and kept a photocopy of the said Register.
The Iban ‘adat’ and the ‘adat’ of other natives of Sarawak do not require members of the longhouse or village to apply for permit to clear, farm, use or occupy land within the ‘antara/garis menua’ of the longhouse or village.
Central to this concept of territorial right (pemakai menua) is the Iban values of management, conservation and sustainable use of resources. This includes the customs of swidden farming practices, fallow system, cleansing of the environment (pelasi menua) and the creation of ‘pulau” or forest reserve(s) within the ‘antara/garis menua’ of the longhouse or village.
By Tradition, the Ibans would provide offerings to the spirits, each time they make a farm. Rituals and offerings are made for several reasons they consider important: first, as a way of seeking permission from the spirits/mother nature to use the land; second, to atone for the destruction of plants and other living creatures in the process of cultivating the land; third, to avert evil spirits, and to chase away pests that might disturb the crops; and fourth, to bless the land, to ensure its fertility.
‘Tanah umai’ includes all lands that are cultivated as farms, gardens, ‘temuda’ (land left to fallow), and fruit groves. As a general rule, the household within the community that first felled the forest secured individual rights over specific pieces of land. These rights are heritable, passing ideally from one generation to generation of household members. It is on specific plots of lands that households make their rice farms or cash crop gardens. Individual plots are also marked by natural boundaries (antara umai) such as streams, watersheds, ridges and permanent landmarks.
‘Tanah umai’ or farmland can be both a private and common property, depending on whether rights of access to such resources rest on individuals or the community. The question, who should farm on a communally owned land and when, is a matter of communal consensus, although every family is given equal rights of access to such land. A community may evoke free access only to certain types of natural resources such as wild vegetables, shoots etc., for personal use. At the same time, it reserves the right to restrict access to resources which have economic values such as rattan, timber, fruit trees, of which benefits deriving from such resources are to be shared by the entire community.
Rights of ownership of farmland can be transferred to another person, for example a sibling, a cousin or a relative. It can also be lost if the person moves to another village outside the ‘antara or garis menua’ through marriage or migration (pindah).
The ‘adat’ on ‘pindah’ is quite clear on depriving one’s rights to customary land. For instance, section 73 of the Adat Iban 1993 stipulates that whoever without the permission of the Tuai Rumah or Penghulu or District Officer moves from one longhouse to another shall be deprived of all rights to untitled land or any customary land that has not been planted with crops and all such land revert to or be owned in common by the people of the longhouse.
There is no ‘adat’ on sale of customary right land. If a person ‘pindah’ from the longhouse, rights to his customary land will either go to the community or he can transfer such rights to a cousin or a relative who will in turn provide him with ‘tungkus asi’.
‘Tungkus asi” refers to the token provided by the recipient to the person who on account of his moving from the longhouse to another transfers rights of his customary land to the recipient.
The Iban community practises forest-fallow system. When the fertility of a farmland declines, Iban farmers would leave the farmland to fallow, so that it would regain its soil fertility. The farmers would shift to different plots of land for farming and only return to cultivate the first plot of farmland many years later, either with similar or different crop.
There are four main categories of forest-fallow, namely:
(i) ‘jerami’ which is a bush-fallow land between 1-2 years after padi crop has been harvested;
(ii) ‘temuda’ which is a land that has been left to fallow for a period of between 3-10 years.
(iii) ‘damun’ which is secondary jungle where the fallow period of between 20-30 years.
(iv) ‘pengerang’ which is a temuda which has been left uncultivated for more than 20 years.
Rights to cultivate a ‘temuda’ rest on the person who first felled the virgin forest.
Within the ‘pemakai menua’ are old longhouse sites known as ‘tembawai’.
‘Tembawai’ land can either be a communally or individually owned land. An old longhouse site is identified through the various fruit trees planted by its former occupants. It also serves as a community fruit-tree reserve area.
If a former longhouse is built on individual land, the ownership of the ‘tembawai’ land is reverted to the landowner, but rights of access to the fruit trees and planted rattan and palms remains with the planter and his descendents.
On the other hand, if the former longhouse is built on a communal land, then the rights of access to fruit trees, rattan etc in the ‘tembawai’ rest with the descendents of the individual who planted the trees, but the rights to the land are held by the community.
Therefore, an old longhouse site serves not only as an evidence of rights of a particular community over it, but also of particular individuals over certain fruit trees within the ‘tembawai’ area.
‘Pulau’ is deep-rooted in Iban Adat or customs and practices. The Ibans traditionally set aside ‘pulau’ as reserve for the collection of timber for building purposes, belian posts for pepper growing, for fences of livestock and animal rearing, rattan for basket and mat weaving and other jungle products. In the past, these forests reserves were especially important to war leaders as a source for construction of war boats required for war expeditions. These are different types of ‘pulau’.
‘Pulau galau’ includes an area of forest whether wholly or partially surrounded by ‘temuda’ or customary right land purposely reserved by an individual or community through generations and left uncleared, unfarmed or uncultivated as a source of resources for domestic needs of the community.
Specifically, ‘pulau galau’ provides the longhouse community with essential items such as timber for house construction, making coffin for the dead and for building boats, jungles, rattan and other jungle produce. Where ‘pulau galau’ is large, it can become a hunting ground for the community. It is also an important water catchment.
‘Pulau galau’ can be owned communally by one longhouse or more longhouses. It can also be owned individually or by groups of core families, especially pioneers or early groups of families who first opened an area for settlement.
Where ‘pulau galau’ is owned communally, rights to it reside with the longhouse that owns it. People from other outside of the longhouse are not permitted to extract timber or climb fruit trees where exclusive rights to these resources rest with the longhouse that owns the ‘pulau’. Rights to the ‘pulau’ pass down to the descendants of the longhouse as long as they remain in the village or maintain their attachment to it by participating or contributing to the activities of the longhouse.
An area is created into ‘pulau’ if it is found to be rich in ‘kayu ban’ (timber), ‘teras’ or ‘belian’ (ironwood), ‘engkerebai’, fruits of which are used to produce textile dye, engkabang and other oil-yielding trees, ‘tekalong’, bark of which is used to make corsages and carrying straps, ‘tapang’ which provides a place for bees to produce honey and other resources such as rattan, fruit trees, palms, etc. It is created into ‘pulau’ to provide the members of the longhouse or village with essential resources for domestic needs.
An area which may not be productive for farming can also be created into a ‘pulau galau’. Such an area is usually made up of rugged terrain, and may contain useful timbers and other resources. Normally such an area is a useful water catchment.
‘Pulau galau’ is also known among the Ibans in the Kota Samarahan, Sibu, Kapit, Mukah and Miri Divisions and other Iban areas of Sarawak as ‘pulau papan or ‘pulau ban’ or ‘pulau kerapa’ or ‘pulau sentubong’ depending on its purposes and uses.
‘Pulau buah’ is a fruit grove which contains different types of trees growing wild or planted. Most ‘pulau buah’ are individually owned. Where ‘pulau buah’ is communally owned, individual may claim rights over a large variety of fruit trees such as ‘durians, kembayau, engkeranji, petai, embawang, lensat’ etc. Where a fruit tree is planted by an individual in a communal ‘pulau buah’, rights to it reside on the individual and members of his family.
Some ‘pulau’ are sacred. Such ‘pulau’ are called ‘pulau mali’. ‘Pulau mali’ are either sites of old cemeteries or sites where shamans (manang) get their initiations or sites where people, especially the sick seek solace and healing. Once a forest reserve has been declared ‘pulau mali’, it cannot be cleared for farming for a specific period of time.
Every family manages its own farm as an independent concern.
The first stage of farming is to clear the undergrowth. The second stage of the farming season is the cutting down of big trees (nebang). When ‘nebang’ is over, the farm site is left to dry for a month or so. During this period, the farmer would usually go out fishing and hunting. This would provide them with enough food for the next stages of farming. Also at this time, the farmers may put up their temporary small hut (langkau) where the family would stay or rest during the farming season. Meanwhile, the elder in the longhouse would observe the position of certain stars at about 3 o’clock in the morning and the various phases of the moon, to determine when to start the planting (nugal). When the elders have agreed on the appropriate time for planting the farmers would select the time for burning (nunu). After burning, the farmers would appease the Gods for the creatures that may have been killed in the burning.
When the ground (tegalan) is ready for planting, the farmers would plant the grains. When ‘nugal’ is over, the women folks would wed the fields (mantun) while the menfolk would go out fishing and hunting for food supply and gather forest products for consumption.
When harvest (ngetau) time comes, the farmers would make offerings (piring) for the deities and go to the sacred spot where the first padi grain or plant was sown. When all the rituals spanning three days are over, the farmers would harvest the grains and carry the harvest back to the longhouse for threshing (ngindik/nungko) and winnowing (nampi/ngebau). If the harvest is abundant, the longhouse community would hold ‘gawai ngambi sembeli pulai’.
During all or any of the above stages of cultivation (i.e. felling, sowing, weeding and harvesting), different families may form cooperative work groups on a labour-exchange basis. This very unique form of cooperation in the Iban community is called ‘beduruk’.
The families in the cooperative work groups would work together to cultivate their farms. They would work together from one farm to another.
Essentially, ‘beduruk’ is done on a rotational basis. It is also a system of strict reciprocity. The cycle is complete when all the farms of the families of the cooperative work groups have been worked upon. Through ‘beduruk’ the natives or Ibans have been able to clear large tracts of lands for their farms.
Note: Nicholas Bawin Ak Anggat was a former Deputy Head of Majlis Adat Istiadat (Customary Laws Council). During his tenure of office from 12 August 1992 to 28 February 2005, he had traveled widely throughout the State collecting information, documents and records to be included in the Iban Adat.
Having been born and brought up in his longhouse, he has obtained his adat Iban through personal experience and observation as well as though learning, reading, researching and studying of the adat Iban.
He has testified on the adat Iban in Suit No: 22-28-99-1 Nor Anak Nyawai & Ors V Borneo Pulp Plantation Sdn Bhd & Ors, and in Suit No. 22-93-2001-111(1) Agi Anak Bungkung & 2 Ors V Ladang Sawit Bintulu Sdn Bhd & 4 Ors in which the Court accepted his evidence and in many other native customary rights land cases in the High Courts in Sarawak. – The Broken Shield.